Free to a Good Home: An Invitation for Animal Abuse
Many online sites do not allow people to post animals available to adopt for free. Why is it still so prevalent?
As an animal lover, I get exhausted every time I have to warn yet another person about finding a new home for their pet. Today while checking my email, in the digest of a performing artist's list, I saw this headline (spelling preserved): "Adoreable 9-weeks-old purebread Beagle Puppy Male free to a good home!"
I rattled off another email, heart pounding, trying to explain as fast as possible why any dog, especially a purebred puppy, should not be cast out to the masses to take for free. I spared the questions my heart was crying to know, 'how did you end up with a nine week old purebred puppy that you already have to give up?' 'Why can't you keep him?' 'How will you determine what a good home IS?' I doubt they will take the time to reply and I don't think my heart can take the answers I may receive if they did. I did write to the list owner to ask that he consider banning such posts.
You may hear the warnings. They might go in one ear and out the other. But I'm here to warn you again, because "free to a good home" ads for pets should NEVER be allowed on any website or newspaper or on the bulletin board at any Petsmart or Pet Supplies Plus.
In various states, including Ohio, there are individuals who are licensed by the USDA to collect animals from random sources and sell them to labs for animal research. OSU buys their research animals from a Class B Laboratory Animal Dealer. I'll spare you the details of what happens to the dogs during their stay, but the life expectancy of a dog sold to research is usually about a week.
It's easy for dog lovers to close our eyes and pretend all dogs come from happy places. I do it, too. Unfortunately, there are people out there who only want to make a buck on innocent pets, and they are always looking for an easy way to obtain them cheaply or for free. "Free to a good home" ads are an open invitation, as are Ohio dog auctions and puppy mills, which is where a lot of those cute purebred puppies waiting in cages at pet stores come from (remember Petland at Chapel Hill Mall?).
If you don't have the emotional capacity to lobby for dogs and try to ban auctions and puppy mills, the very least you can do is make it harder for people with ill-intentions to get a hold of dogs easily.
Spay and neuter your pets. Even if you do find "good" homes for all the puppies, unless you have them all fixed there is no way of knowing where their offspring may end up.
Don't leave pets unsupervised in your yard. As I mentioned in my previous column about the dangers of invisible fences, dogs are stolen from yards all the time and sold or bred. They could even be used as bait in dog fighting rings or taken in by an animal hoarder...the same goes for pets given away for free.
If you run an ad to find a home for your pet, charge a rehoming fee. There are enough people creating "free to a good home" ads, unfortunately, that those with questionable motives will likely skip over ads charging $25 or $50. And if you really feel a connection with the people who come to pick up the pet, you don't actually have to take the money. But I would still be leery. It's easy to concoct a wonderful story about a yard and other dogs and children to play with.
Warn others not to post "free to a good home" ads. Let well-intentioned people know that not everyone who replies to those ads may in fact have a good home to offer.
If you're looking to add a new dog to your family, try a dog breed quiz to select traits you are looking for and would like to avoid. I just took one at SelectSmart.com and the best dog for me, aside from a mutt, is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Can't say that I ever would have considered one before, as I'd never heard of it.
But don't automatically assume that any dog listed as that breed will have the traits you read about. Dogs can be misidentified, and every dog has its own, distict personality and past no matter what the breed. Make sure all members of your household meet any pet ahead of time before you actually adopt.
Finally, don't adopt on a whim or give pets as presents. This will lessen the likelihood that a pet becomes a novelty item that needs to be rehomed because he isn't a good fit for the family.